MEL: Please give us your views on the recently concluded elections.
AKS: In 1993 the workers of FCI (Food Corporation of India) went to court challenging the right of the so called “recognized” Union in FCI to represent them. The workers claimed that this “recognized” union does not represent them. The Delhi High Court upheld their stand. The case went to the Supreme Court and in 1995 the Supreme Court ruled that workers should choose their representative union by secret ballot and there should be one Union in one industry. After this ruling elections were conducted in FCI and a single union was elected there.
Subsequently the Paschim Railway Karmachari Parishad (PRKP) went to court demanding elections to determine which Union should represent the workers in the Railways. The Supreme Court upheld this claim and ruled that elections should be conducted in the railways to determine the representative union. It also laid down modalities for conduct of these elections, namely a) elections by secret ballot b) Elections every five years c) One union in one industry d) No retired employee to be an office bearer e) Only Permanent Employees eligible to stand who have got minimum 3 years of service left f) The candidates can stand who are a member of a registered trade Union. g) RLC’s (Regional Labour Commissioners) under the Labour Ministry, New Delhi will conduct the elections h) The Union which has the highest number of winning candidates from all over India will be the recognized representative union of the workers. I) All facilities given to the existing recognized Unions should be withdrawn- such as use of Union office premises (which are supplied by the Railways), special leave facilities for Union activists etc. This was to provide a level playing field for all.
Out of the above, the Railway authorities only implemented the first of the above modalities, namely that elections will be conducted by secret ballot. All the others were overlooked. According to the rules framed by the railways, election would not be for individual candidates as representatives of the workers. On the contrary workers in the different zones of the railways would have to vote for the Union which would represent them at the Zonal level. (There are 16 zones in the Railways and 1 corporation-The Konkan Railway Corporation) Recognition would be given Zone wise to that Union which polled more that 35% of the total votes. Also the Union which gets recognition in more than 9 zones will be declared the representative Union at the All India level.
In the 2006 elections, AIRF got recognition in 15 zones and NFIR in 9 zones. Hence both are recognized as representing the workers at All India level! One Union PRKP won 70% of the votes in NE (North East) Zone and was the sole recognized union in that zone. However under the present system, this zone does not get represented at the All India level.
My question is how they decided this figure of 35% for representation at the Zonal level. Is this an exam where minimum 35% is required? This figure is arbitrarily chosen to enable more than one union to emerge as the representative union. Since two unions can emerge, under this system (both having more than 35% of the total votes) it is clear that this move was deliberately done to prevent a single union emerging and diluting the workers bargaining power. This was in violation of the Supreme Court order. Also why is the recognition being given zone wise? The Railways is an All India Institution and the representation of the workmen should also be on an all India basis.
In 2006, when the elections to the railways was first announced, I was asked by the All India General Secretary of AIREC (All India Railway Employees Confederation) Comrade C.M.Singh to file the nomination papers on behalf of AIREC for the Western Zone. I was the Zonal Secretary of this organization at that time and Comrade B.D.S Rath was the Mumbai Division, Western Zone, President. We both went to file the papers. I was asked by the railways authorities to sign an undertaking that if we won the elections, we would not a) Take part in any agitation in front of any of the offices of the Railways b) take part in any strike or industrial action. The GM has the powers to derecognize any Union which violates this undertaking
I signed this undertaking as we wanted to contest the elections. Our nomination papers were accepted by the authorities. However one day after this filing of the papers, I got a phone call saying that the form is rejected because AIREC is not registered at the Zonal level. AIREC is a registered Trade Union under the Trades Union Act at New Delhi. It is worthwhile to note that neither AIRF nor NFIR are registered under this Act at New Delhi. Instead they have Zonal registration numbers.
Similarly in all the Zones of the Railways, AIREC papers were rejected on two grounds a) AIREC did not have a zonal registration and b) The Associations affiliated to AIREC did not have Group D staff. This was false because the AIC&WSA (All India Carriage and Wagon Staff Association) had Group D category member.
Hence AIREC went to court challenging its disqualification. The case is still pending in the Delhi High Court after 7 years!
MEL: What is your view on the numerous corruption cases coming out regarding the Railways?
AKS: I joined the Indian Railways in 1976 as a Group D worker. I was observing the functioning of the railways very keenly. By 1980 I had come to the conclusion that if everyone discharged their duties honestly, we can put tracks made of gold all over India! So much revenue is earned by the Railways. In 1980 there were 22 lakh permanent railway employees. Now there are only 13 lakh employees. The work load has increased many times, the number of goods and passengers carried by the railways ahs also increased manifold, hence revenue earned has increased tremendously. How can the railways claim a loss? Also the privatization of increasing sections of the Railways operations means that there is more scope for corruption. Previously everything used to be made in house, from the engines, to the wagons and right down to the last cushion or seat. There was only a scope for corruption at the level of purchase of basic raw materials. But there were many checks against this. But now with outsourcing of so many items the opportunities for theft has increased manifold. Also the contractors, who are now giving the services, pay their workers very poorly even though they are mandated to pay minimum wages. How can these workers look after their families?
But no action will be taken to prevent the siphoning of the revenue. The system is such that those who are supposed to check crime are hand-in-glove with the criminals. For example, the police and investigating agencies report to the Home Minister in Delhi. The Home Minister reports to the Prime Minister. If the head was clean how could these things happen? If all the money that is filched from the economy was seized, we could wipe out the entire debt of the country.
MEL: What should the working class do in this situation?
AKS: We should stop the policies of privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation. We should nationalize the major industries. We should ensure that all able bodied persons are guaranteed a job with minimum wages. After retirement all working people should be entitled to pension. There is enough wealth in this country to carry out all of this.
The government is following retrograde policies. Why has the government stopped pension for those recruited after 2004? Why is it encouraging the use of contract labour? We the working class and its leaders need to come together to address these issues.
MEL: We thank you for your interview and agree that the working class must put forward an alternate program for Indian society.